In September 1579, Akbar’ sent an ambassador to Goa:
” I am sending Abdullah, my ambassador, and Dominic Perez (an Armenian Christian, the interpreter) with the request that you will send me two learned Fathers and the books of Law, especially the Gospel, that I may know the Law and its excellence…”
This began a close relationship between the Mughals and the Jesuits. This closeness was reflected in art and culture too. It is fascinating to notice the Indian and Persian influence on the paintings and features of the Madonna and Christ.
“The Armenians, who had two churches in Delhi (both destroyed by Nadir Shah in 1739) used to hold a Christmas drama at which Mughal nobles and Rajput chieftains were among the prominent invitees. They sought the emperor’s presence at the play in 1625-26 and Jahangir agreed as he sometimes used to attend a similar one held in Agra since his father’s time. At that play, records the Franciscan Annals, little boys and girls dressed as angels, took part on Christmas night. The emperor was present and rose petals were showered on him. Earlier, “on Christmas morning Akbar used to come to the church (he had ordered to be built) with his courtiers to see the representation of the cave in which Jesus was born and the good shepherds kept watch. Afterwards the ladies of his harem also visited the manger.” Jahangir once presented beeswax candles at the church at Lahore, “through which he was conducted like a bishop, to the chiming of bells and singing of carols”, writes historian R V Smith
The paintings commissioned by Akbar and Jahangir was a blend of Western iconography with Indian and Islamic elements. This is a Virgin and Child dating to 1600-25. Mary watches over baby Jesus, who holds her hand and grasps flowers.
Jahangir and Jesus .The portrait of Jahangir was done by the Mughal artist, Hashim, and Jesus, by Abu’l Hassan. Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
a folio from the Mughal Bible, showing the Nativity scene. The painting shows the limited knowledge of the painters as there are two magis instead of three and there is a bejewelled Mary with the architecture popular in Islamic kingdoms as a background instead of a stable.
The Bible was translated nto Persian by Abul Fazl
Emperor Akbar’s exceptional interest in Christianity is reflected in many ways. Among these was his commissioning in 1602 of a Life of Christ from his guest, the Jesuit priest Jerome Xavier, called Mirʾāt al-quds (Mirror of Holiness): A Life of Christ for Emperor Akbar
Adoration of the Christ Child
ca. 1630 (Golconda, Deccan, India) Freer and SakleyPainting, ca. 1600-1610. May depict the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem, forty days after his birth. From the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Christ seated in a palace chamber with a female devotee crouching at his feet, surrounded by male courtiers in European-style dress Mughal, circa 1610-20 (Bonhams)
Mughal depiction c 1630 of Virgin Mary and Jesus (J.14,2). British Library
Hossein Naqqash, Archangel Raphael, (c. 1590, Mughal; Musée Guimet, Paris)